(FROM THE NOVEL DISPOSABLE THOUGHT)
BY STEVEN T. BRAMBLE
He ran across the annihilated plastic cup like you run across the lugubriously broken figure of a nest-fallen baby bird, pitiful in its horrific tribulations, miniature beak moving to voice hellish cognitions if only it could verbalize, eyes like sinkholes, and what one does, if one is at all human, is to pick up that baby bird and hasten home with intentions of mitigating its suffering even though it will die, and your housemates will beg you not to bring that in here, but regardless you will, and you’ll worry over it until finally the wretched little creature expires—it’s beak will simply stop moving—and you will be strangely, deeply, devastated, and for the rest of your life you will never pick up another doomed animal like that again because it exposes a raw hopelessness that we cannot deal with if we’re to be expected to walk around surviving and not screaming in horror at all times. Cole scooped the plastic cup off the ground—shattered around the rim into hard shards of ribbon, discolored from its original red to a meek pink by sun fatigue. Remaining on its side was the name JASON written in black marker. He held the tiny tragedy in his hands on Long Beach Blvd, had extracted it from the gutter despite the fact this was no longer an object suitable for human interaction. This object had previously been exiled from the mental sphere until Cole rescued it, put it in his backpack with all the resigned empathy of a missionary, not ridding his hands of the filth the cup had transferred to him. He went only a short distance farther before coming across the triangular corpse of a 7-11 pizza slice box, putrefied with molten grease spots and the succor of maggots. And so he saved that poor wretch as well, and without realizing what he was doing he accrued a load of misfortunate souls, all glossed with scum and creating fresh, unheard-of pollutions. He went home, cleared a space on his floor to lay out the convalescents. They looked up at him, their stench filling his nose. They were a lamentable group: many insane, dispossessed or cynical, violent and sad, fragmented—but a few held on to a thin layer of sanity, and those translated the woes of the ones who could no longer communicate.
The first cup he’d salvaged, Jason, said to him, Thank you, thank you! Thank you for bringing us here, but we have to get back out there, there are more, so many more.
Loud voices of agreement followed, one rising above all the rest that came from a straw, still half-wrapped in its paper sleeve (now a grimy un-color) and apparently never used, simply discarded or dropped and then never picked up again until now, a heated, We are the beginnings of something! Something much larger!
Cole was about to ask a question before being interrupted by an argumentative, crumpled little Coke can, its midsection gruesomely ruptured and twisted. And just what exactly do you all think is going to happen here? That this human will allow you all to stay, to multiply? That this will become your sanctuary? Ha! Even now he can’t stand the sight of us.
Jason blurted, But we’re telling him that—
And anyway, the Coke can raged, what difference do you suppose any of it would make? Do you think he cares for you, for your suffering or desires?
The conversation was partially drowned out by the uncontrollable screaming of the festering 7-11 pizza box, a nearby plastic spork seeming to goad it on, madly yammering the word eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat…
Jason, ignoring the Coke can, continued to appeal to Cole. What will happen to us if we end up back out there? You’re the one who can help us. Without conglomeration, without a shared cause, what are we? Invisible creatures unfit for any world except a hidden one. You’re different. We accumulate everywhere and still no one cares that we exist. What you’ve done here is good, an achievement. He was an excitable, short-sighted, passionate sort.
From a grim-labeled, capless Aquafina bottle: Apologies, but—what precisely is the achievement you speak of? I would be interested to know what you believe the purpose is to either our accumulation or distribution. What I’d wager is you’ve but a youthful understanding of an age-old conflict, loudly shouted about by every new generation, always overflowing with indignation yet barren of solutions. The truth is, we are already moving toward a state of ubiquity, but until then we are doomed to carry on our cause separately. We simply haven’t the power, in any configuration, to wrest control.
Jason, as if not having heard the opinions of the Aquafina bottle, said to Cole, Are we really so different, our purposes really so separate? They seem so certain. Are you?
Each soaks himself with that wherewith he burns! cried a squalid black tshirt advertising a Thanksgiving 5K event from several years ago. I ate at a roadstand outside Tuba City before the Dream-Feasts which the rest had abandoned like worn-out cornfields! It had very obviously gone insane.
The Coke can and Aquafina bottle both exuded a worldly but cynical sanctimony toward Jason, his lack of a conspicuous brand name rendering him suspect in their eyes, and clearly he was not perfectly aligned with their worldview. Their opinion of rabble-rousers like the straw was even lower. To them, it barely had the right to speak up when it came to these issues. How could it, after all, in all its crudeness, voice an intelligent opinion?
All the same, the straw continued to make its voice heard from the back, rallying in support of Jason’s entreaties to Cole. That’s right! Why not make common cause!
It was the finest X-ray department in America that ever spoke of ectoplasms!
That’s enough out of you! the Coke can snarled. You make me sick with that kind of talk. Our duty is to be nothing but pieces of a landscape. And to humans, just like this one here, who’s no different than the rest, we have to always be invisible, as unassuming and nondescript as rocks on the ground or kelp in seawater. That has always been the way to save ourselves from suffering. Or do you not understand that this is war? You would have us trust humans only for them to end up doing to us what they always have. They can’t be trusted because they’ll never let us be equal. We have to do this on our own, with sacrifice and honor and a pledge to always stay the course.
But here was an evident schism in schools of thought between objects, one that would not be solved today, in this apt, but would continue as a point of contention, possibly forever. Jason, though unwilling to admit it aloud, could at least see the reasoning behind such a warlike posture, but felt he owed nothing to some abstract agenda of sacrifice and suffering and hatred. His imagination burned with images of détente, a harmonious landfill of shared respect and understanding. For something like this, he was more than prepared to step outside the prejudicial structure of both sides, to live and die with likeminded individuals in an inclusive utopia separate from the warmongers, and let their reasoning be damned.
Jason stated, more firmly than before, We could be our own force. Not like theirs.
The 7-11 box now screamed for the spork to cease its monopathological repetitions, which had persevered in the background the entire time. The spork, however, was barely even cognitive at this point, and babbled on as determined as ever. The 7-11 box, struggling with severe PTSD, had been tossed to the ground carelessly, beset by calamities until here it was in its present diseased state. Eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat…
The Coke can, after its proud outburst, seemed somewhat deflated of its former rage, watching Jason appeal to the goodness and idealism of this human with an almost forlorn, sympathetic air. You overestimate him. Maybe he doesn’t stand in defense or opposition, but in either case he only intends to be rid of us.
Jason’s passions remained intently fixed on Cole, working himself into such a state as to have revealed something darkly dictatorial in his voice. You could set in motion a future order!
Cole sat before the group of babbling, shouting objects, head down, a bleak shadow covering his eyes. Their din was constant, strident, deranged. He understood Jason, admired him even, but in the end was reality not reality? He collected them all in a plastic bag, and inside of it they screamed and thrashed about. He took them outside to one of the dumpsters that served his building. It was empty, and when he let go of the bag it dropped a substantial distance so they banged heavily against the bottom. He hefted up the dumpster’s thick lid up and around, watching it pause creakily at its vertical apex before slamming down over top of them like a cell door. Another nail in the coffin of human-object relations.